“Before illness,” I tell my therapist, “I had things I was working on – I was engaged with life. Now I can’t do any of that. I feel useless.”
She nods. “Yes, that is what illness does.”
I’d had two days of feeling better. Two days of being able to sit up and actually do a bit of housework. “I felt so good that I actually started to allow myself to make plans,” I tell her, choking up.
“That is the trouble with this disease,” she explains. “Patients have good days, and they do things, and it sets them back. You need to learn to enjoy the days you are feeling better, without increasing your activity. Your body needs rest; rest is what is going to get you well again.”
I look away. How can I tell her about the messages that have been haunting me these past days?
“I feel stripped of all purpose,” I manage to confess.
“Ah,” she says knowingly. “One of the things that we are able to do when we are well is avoid the voices in our head; without all that busyness we are alone with our demons.”
“Exactly!” I love this woman! “It sounds crazy, but I keep hearing my father’s voice.”
“What is he saying?” She leans forward.
“You don’t have any problems! You don’t even know what problems are! ” There were more too: Time is money. Waste not, want not. I tell her about how he never allowed us to sleep in, made us get up and do drills on Saturday morning before cleaning the house.
“Your father wanted you to be strong, able to face whatever life threw at you. What is missing from that picture is the message that home is the soft place to land.”
Her words strike a chord. “That concept was foreign to me for most of my life,” I tell her. “I never even conceived of it until I met Ric. Isn’t that awful?”
She gives me a sad smile. “The trouble with growing up in a family where work ethic is everything is that you are always living up to someone else’s expectations. Your father set the bar high and to get there, you had negate all natural instincts. You weren’t allowed to feel tired, sad, angry, etc. All that would be pushed aside in order not to disappoint him.”
Even as she speaks, I see myself going to my room, disheartened by my feelings, wanting to hide – out of sorts. Emotions were not welcome in our house; weakness was abhorred.
“Then you found yourself alone as a single mom with three kids. There was no time for your needs. No time to be sick, or rest, so you carried on out of necessity.”
“And I had my own business,” I add to the list in my head. “No possibility of taking time off there.” To my therapist, I add: “I don’t know how to banish the guilt.”
“Journal the messages when they pop up,” she suggests. “That way you can get them out of your head and onto paper where you can see how useless they are. Tell yourself that by resting you are doing exactly what you need to be doing. Getting better is all about listening to your body.”
“And when others ask me what I’ve done with my day…….?”
“Their questions are triggering you childhood demons. You are hearing your father’s voice behind them. Tell them you are doing exactly what you need to be doing to get well. Leave it at that.”
I sigh. For months now, I have felt like I have to justify my existence to everyone. I have felt like such a failure.
“I have done the same thing to my children,” I blurt out.
“Likely,” she smiles. “It’s all you’ve known.”
“Oh God,” I moan.
“There is nothing wrong with a good work ethic as long as it’s balanced with proper rest. It’s all about moderation.”
I have missed the moderation piece of life’s puzzle.
Will I ever learn?